Transformers: The Game Hands-On

Michael Bay's summer blockbuster is almost here. We got to play Activision's tie-in action game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.


The hype machine is running at full tilt for the upcoming July 4 release of the Transformers film, Michael Bay's big action-movie reimagining of the classic giant-robot cartoon and toy franchises that many adult gamers came to love in their halcyon youth. It's not surprising--given the affection many such fans hold for the property--that excitement for the movie is running high right now. (We personally witnessed applause for the latest Transformers trailer on a recent theatrical visit.) It's also no surprise that Activision, along with developers Traveller's Tales, Savage, and Vicarious Visions, are prepping licensed games that tie into the movie for every conceivable platform. We recently got to try out almost all of them, including versions on the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, the Wii, the PSP, and one of the two games coming out for the DS.

Expect familiar Transformers to show up, albeit with some extensive makeovers.
Expect familiar Transformers to show up, albeit with some extensive makeovers.

Getting to play as a giant robot--one that can stomp on everything in sight, climb up building faces, or pick up and hurl city buses--seems like a concept that sells itself. We have to admit, we giddily hammered on the "transform" button, changing from robot to car and back to robot for a good couple of minutes before we moved on to the rest of the game. In the console versions of Transformers, you'll actually get two single-player campaigns; one from the perspective of the heroic Autobots and the other casting you as the duplicitous Decepticons. The Autobot storyline will follow that of the film's, which (from what we know so far) focuses on the struggle of the good guys to keep the mythical AllSpark, the device which gives the Transformers life, out of the hands of the bad guys. However, when you choose to play as the Decepticons, you'll actually get an alternate version of the movie's plot, which envisions a scenario where the bad guys prevail over the forces of good.

No matter which side you're playing, Transformers proceeds in an open-world fashion, where you'll move around a hub area picking up story missions from hotspots on the map. Or you'll just wreak robot havoc on the poor populace, if you feel like it. You'll also pick up energon cubes hidden throughout the environment, and each time you collect 20 cubes, you'll unlock new optional side tasks. These include scavenger and survival missions that you can complete to then unlock some nifty bonus content (more on that later). If you want to take a break from all the story and side missions, the game will offer an achievement system of sorts, whereby you'll be ranked on performing flashy actions, such as power sliding in car form or hurling an object particularly far. Once you max out your performance in one of these categories, you'll see an award for it on your pause screen, and these awards will also contribute to unlocking bonus content. There will also be several unique hub areas in which you can get all destructive. We got to see one set in a medium-sized town that afforded lots of opportunities for breaking and exploding things.

The game will give you an assortment of four Autobots and five Decepticons to play as, though we only saw Bumblebee and Optimus Prime from among the former; Barricade (the police car) and Starscream from the latter. Each character also has a unique melee attack. For instance, Barricade uses a set of spiked nunchaku and light or heavy projectile attacks, including lasers and missiles. And then, of course, there's the transform ability, which lets each character assume a unique vehicle form, mostly of the four-wheeled variety. However, Starscream will become a high-speed jet, and Blackout will give you the chance to fly an attack chopper. Most of the missions in the game will require you to perform tasks in both robot and vehicle forms. For example, in one mission we played, Bumblebee had to do battle with Barricade in one urban location and then transform to chase his enemy to the next location.

Each version of the game will offer a number of Autobots and Decepticons that you can control.
Each version of the game will offer a number of Autobots and Decepticons that you can control.

Because Transformers is a franchise with a devoted following, Activision would have been remiss in not throwing in a few nostalgic nuggets to please the most diehard fans. Indeed, it looks like the console versions of the game will offer quite a bit of material those fans will want to unlock by completing side missions and pulling off the in-game performance achievements. Of course, you'll find plenty of archived image material, such as comic book covers from a number of different Transformers series and old toy boxes from the franchise's original run of action figures.

However, our favorite part of the bonus material is the inclusion of a number of playable "generation one" Transformer characters. You can expect to either terrorize or defend the populace with Optimus Prime, Megatron, or Jazz (among others) in all their old-school glory. The game will even feature some bonus missions featuring Transformers that weren't included in the film. We got to see a sequence with Prime fighting Shockwave, who looked very similar to his original incarnation from way back when. However, this version of Shockwave will be a triple-changer, which means he has robot, turret, and helicopter forms. At any rate, serious Transformers fans will no doubt be quite pleased to see the inclusion of series elements outside of the film's milieu.

Activision and its developers have collaborated heavily with the filmmakers in crafting all of the Transformers game. Industrial Light and Magic actually provided the game developers with the original model files for the Transformers used in the movie. The in-game characters we saw on the 360 and PS3 looked very similar to their film counterparts. Music will be provided by the movie's composer, Steve Jablonsky, who--on the game side--also provided the score for Command & Conquer 3. Likewise, the team had access to the actual samples that the film's sound designers created for the biggest action sequences. The developers even worked directly with toy company Hasbro to create the nine "fodder" enemies featured in the game, four of which are set to become Transformers action figures in their own right.

We also got a quick look at the Wii version of the game, which (along with the PlayStation 2 edition) will contain all of the same content as the 360 and PS3 games, but it will have expectedly lower-quality graphical assets. Still, we were fairly impressed with the relatively few compromises that were made on the Wii, and the game's controls seemed to map well to the Wii Remote's motion controls. On the PSP, developer Savage has created a third-person shooter, which--unlike the console versions--gives you a single linear storyline that will see you playing as both Autobots and Decepticons. The game will feature a ton of playable characters--purportedly about 25--many of whom you'll unlock during the campaign. You can then play as any of these characters in the four-player ad hoc mode, which features such game types as capture the flag, king of the hill, and good old deathmatch. The PSP game is said to feature more generation-one characters, such as Shockwave and Hound, as well.

Just being able to transform at the touch of a button is awfully satisfying (in a slightly nerdy way).
Just being able to transform at the touch of a button is awfully satisfying (in a slightly nerdy way).

With two distinctive factions, the Transformers franchise is just screaming for the Pokémon treatment, right? OK, maybe not, but Activision will indeed provide two separate retail Transformers games on the Nintendo DS, each focusing on the Autobots or the Decepticons. Each game will naturally feature different characters for you to play as, in addition to distinctive single-player campaigns. You'll use touch-screen controls to access a lot of features, such as transforming. Your characters will also accrue experience and gain more strength as you play through the story mode. Vicarious Visions seems to have gone above and beyond with the multiplayer modes for the DS games as well. If two players have the same version of the game, they can play co-op; if their games are different, they can play deathmatch. However, the most impressive feature here is the "Battle for the AllSpark" online mode, which pits owners of each version in a persistent, ongoing online war. The winning side will be periodically tallied, and the game's Web site will then be themed after that side for a period of time as a way of publicly displaying the winners.

Transformers is due to hit theaters on July 4, and Activision's console games are currently slated to appear on shelves on June 26 (with the handheld games even coming a bit before that), so you Transformers fanatics can get your fix in just a matter of weeks. Look for reviews of all versions of the game to hit GameSpot as close to the retail ship date as possible.

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